Thorns FC Opponent Dossier: Sky Blue FC - May 16, 2013
Back at JELD-WEN Field on Thursday evening, the Portland Thorns take on Sky Blue FC in their latest NWSL outing (7:30pm PT, Freedom 970 / www.portlandthornsfc.com). Find out everything you need to know about the opposition.
A brief history…
First set up in 2008, Sky Blue FC competed in the now defunct Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) and recruited some star names, such as Brazilian duo Rosana and Ester. They went on to win the championship in August 2009, beating Los Angeles Sol in the final.
Following the collapse of the WPS, Sky Blue decided to keep the club alive by setting up a partnership with the New Jersey Wildcats and continued to stay active in the local community. Once the NWSL was set up, they were a natural fit to become one of the teams to get involved.
What players have they recruited?
When it came to the NWSL player allocation, Sky Blue were assigned United States internationals Christie Rampone, Kelley O’Hara and Jillian Loyden, Canada regulars Melanie Booth and Sophie Schmidt, as well as Mexican duo Monica Ocampo and Lydia Rangel.
As they continued to strengthen their squad, Sky Blue recruited Australian pair Caitlin Foord and Lisa De Vanna, while the NWSL College Draft saw them pick up Lindsi Lisonbee Cutshall, Kendall Johnson, Ashley Baker and Becky Kaplan. The roster was filled out with some shrewd acquisitions, like goalkeeper Brittany Cameron.
How have they fared so far this season?
Sky Blue can be relatively pleased with how their campaign has started with three victories from five games played, while they boast the second-best defense with only four goals conceded and they have not lost a game since May 1st duel away to Western New York Flash.
Unbeaten at home, Sky Blue have dominated a lot of their games, including the 2-0 win over Seattle Reign last week. Yet, there is still room for improvement with their attack not as clinical as it could be and their midfield still adjusting to the style of play that they want to move forward with.
Head coach: Jim Gabarra
One of the most experienced coaches in the NWSL, Gabarra spent almost a full decade in charge of Washington Freedom during their time in Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) and the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS). He also took charge of the San Diego Spirit for a short stint, but has now taken over from Rick Stainton to lead Sky Blue FC.
Star Player: Christie Rampone
Describing this experienced defender as a legend wouldn’t actually do her justice as Rampone is really in a league of her own. The current captain of the United States women’s team, she is the second most capped player for that team, she has played in four FIFA World Cup finals and four Olympic tournaments, and is still one of the most reliable and consistent players around.
One To Watch: Caitlin Foord
Still only 18, this exciting Australian prospect has taken a massive leap by joining the NWSL to advance further in her career. The right-sided player had spent all of her playing days in her homeland until this year and she is determined to make the most of her move to New Jersey. Quick to break forward and superb at creating goalscoring opportunities, she is a star on the rise.
What can the Thorns expect?
With a tendency to play five players across the midfield, Sky Blue attempt to catch their opponents on the break and counter attack them. This will be an area that the Thorns would thread carefully in, especially if the likes of O’Hara and Danesha Adams are deployed out wide because they are very good at getting into dangerous positions.
The target up front is De Vanna, who covers a lot of ground closing down defenders and making runs off the ball. Although service into her can be limited, unless Adams gets a chance to deliver from set-pieces. The Thorns can expect to confront a team who are patient in their play and not afraid to let them have the ball for long periods.
Who are their main threats?
For someone who has played in Sweden, England and her native Australia, De Vanna is a player with a lot of experience and she can make the most of half chances if the ball should fall into her path. And the same goes for former University of Portland Pilot Schmidt (above), who is the team’s leading scorer with three goals in five games.
O’Hara is likely to cut inside from wide positions and she is not afraid to shoot as the NWSL stats show that she trails only the Thorns’ Alex Morgan with shots on goal. Mexican Ocampo is someone who could prove to be a useful impact substitute to bring on, but she has been restricted to few minutes so far as the team has stuck with one up front.
Where are they most vulnerable?
When someone as clever as Rampone marshals a team’s backline, they are bound to be extremely organized and that is what Sky Blue is. Yet, they are not completely watertight and if lured out of position by someone like Morgan or Christine Sinclair, then they could be exposed and their goalkeeper, Cameron, can be worked.
So far, Cameron has performed admirably with 15 saves and two shut-outs put up in five games. Although, she does require more protection from midfield, where Sky Blue can be caught out by speed. Despite having numerical support, the team can struggle to dictate the tempo of a game and that is somewhere that the Thorns should be able to seize control.
Did You Know?
Sky Blue defender Kendall Johnson was born in Portland and went on to play for Portland Pilots whilst studying at the University of Portland.
Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandTimbers.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.